Story-telling in Waterford, Republic of Ireland

Paula Connaughton and Naomi Thompson recently visited the Waterford and South Tipperary Community Youth Service in Ireland to deliver story-telling workshops on behalf of In Defence of Youth Work. Here they report back on their experience there.

Across two days, over forty youth and community workers engaged with and were trained in the story-telling process. A range of stories emerged that demonstrated the impact of youth work, the distinctiveness of the youth work approach and the relevance of the IDYW cornerstones.

thumbnail_WP_20160707_011What struck us (and indeed, many others present) was the apparent simplicity of the stories chosen for discussion, and yet, the depth of impact and carefully considered youth work practice they contained. Critical moments in the stories emerged within such simple moments as a conversation in a car, a walk through a graveyard or telling a young person that they were cared about. These simple yet critical acts were the significant moments of turning point, development and impact in the stories.

The unpicking and interrogation of the stories allowed us to explore what youth work is and why it is distinctive from other forms of practice. Significantly, the critical moments mentioned above all happened beyond the boundaries of set programmes, the timings of scheduled sessions and confines of buildings.

The youth and community workers expressed affinity with the IDYW cornerstones and these came to life in the stories as they were unpicked and explored. The nature of youth work practice as ‘improvisory yet rehearsed’ had particular resonance as well as the exploration of young people’s choice and autonomy to choose to engage, not just with activities but conversations and relationships, and to have a level of power in setting the boundaries, locations and potential of these.

The youth and community workers who took part in the workshops fed back that they found the process helpful, particularly in the following ways:

* To share practice with each other and understand common values and ways of working in seemingly diverse stories

* To identify case studies that could be included in future funding bids

* To aid their reflection on professional practice and it was proposed that their regular reflective practice meetings adopted the story-telling process as a more effective means of reflecting together

* To offer a more positive approach to reflective practice than the typical model of identifying problems

* To understand what makes their work unique, that it is both improvisatory yet deliberate, and to recognise and celebrates moments of success and impact

* To recognise and articulate the distinctiveness of youth work from other forms of work with young people

* To recognise the presence of the IDYW cornerstones in their own practice and to adopt these as a form of manifesto for their work

The group also had a go at facilitating story-telling with each other to very good effect and said that the legacy of IDYW would continue at Waterford and South Tipperary Community Youth Service. They promised to keep in touch and let us know how it goes.